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There is this little guy in the kanto just outside the school who just hangs there each and every day, sometimes wrapping his arms around a lamp post and just standing there watching the world pass him by. Some days he is clean and can pass for just an ordinary kanto boy; other days, he is tubal, with unkempt hair and soiled clothes.

He has become such a fixture of the kanto that pedestrians pay him no attention whatsoever. He is totally harmless. He lets people go about their business; and he goes about his own. By this, I mean stare distantly into something only he can see in his head; or mumble things as though he is talking to somebody in front of him.

Some days, he appears as though he is here with the rest of us. On other days – well – you just kind of know from the way he stares into space that he has teleported to somewhere only he can possibly know.

When the tambays in the kanto have nothing better to do, they sometimes pick on him. He does not seem to mind. He has this seemingly perpetual grin carved on his face. His eyes – these are always glazed, as though they are not meant to see the world as everyone else sees it. If anything, those eyes appear as though they see things everyone else cannot.

I was standing by that permanently-closed side gate of the school one mid-day when the little guy walked to a corner of the wall across the road just in front of me. He turned his back to the road and reached down to unzip his pants. Then, he proceeded to relieve himself against the wall.

Aba nga naman… For somebody whose sense of reality did not seem to match everyone else’s, I was surprised to discover he – at least – still possessed a sense of modesty. Kasi naman, there is this other guy who walks the road in front of school frequently stark naked.

Once, in front of Rob, I saw this other guy standing across the road. For once, he had a greasy t-shirt on. The rest of his body was covered by the front hood of a jeepney caught in traffic. When the jeepney moved on and the rest of him became visible, inang… T-shirt lang pala ang suot

Unlike the first guy, this other one sometimes rushes at people to send them scampering away. The first guy is always docile – or, at least, I have never seen him otherwise.

Back to when he was relieving himself against the wall, one of our own security guards – who seemed quite familiar with him – left the campus to walk to the kanto probably for lunch. He seemed amused to see the urinating guy and had a faint smile on his face as he walked by. After passing the guy momentarily, the guard – as though an afterthought – took one step backwards and then hollered, “Huuuuuuuyyyyyy!!!”

Nagulat naman ‘yung naihî, and at that moment, I remember thinking laughingly to myself, “Sino kayâ sa dalawa ang luko?”

Luko – or luka – that was how we referred in the old days to anyone who had gone bonkers! By this, I mean somebody who has lost touch with reality as the rest of the world knows it. Schizophrenia, I believe, is the technical term; and people who have this ailment see and hear things the rest of us do not. In short, their version of reality is disconnected from that of you and me.

The greasy ones we see walking the streets, it was just a few years ago – from a news documentary on local television – when I learned they are also referred to as taong grasa. I had not heard that term before that documentary. They were not unknown; we just did not refer to them that way.

For instance, when I was a teenager, there was this poor chap who would pass in front of the house every mid-morning like clockwork, whether it rained or the sun shone brightly. He was greasy all over and carried an equally sooty makeshift rucksack over his back. We never discovered his name; nor where he came from; and where he went. He just passed each and every day. Until one day, we just realized, he passed no more. Somebody surmised he must have died.

Then, there was this one woman who roamed the streets of the city with a whistle between her lips and thinking of herself as a traffic cop. She blew her whistle and waved her hands frantically as vehicles passed by, their drivers of course knowing she had lost her marbles and drove by without paying her much attention except to make sure they did not run over her.

Lately, I have been seeing this greasy woman squatting right in front of the house. The first time I saw her squatting at the front gate, I was wary about passing her. I dunno… I think it is just normal human behavior to be wary, much as I feel sorry for them. You just cannot tell what they will do.

When I was in high school, a guy quite completely bonkers sneaked past the security and walked into the gym while it was filled with students having Recess. He snatched a basketball from a few boys having a shoot-about, raised the ball above his head and declared, “Ako ang Diyos!” The incident triggered a stampede.

This woman at my front gate, I see her walking as far away as the Base, a good kilometer away. Maybe a strange voice in her head tells her to walk the same route the previous guy did before her. Who knows?

When I did pass her that first time, I sneaked a look at her face and I did not think she was even aware I was there. I do not hesitate anymore about passing when she squats by the gate, although I still make sure I give her space.

That guy at the kanto outside school, at least I know he lives somewhere close by. I had seen him with people who appeared to be relations. But these other greasy people I see along the roads – their number seems to be increasing – just who are they and where do they come from?

They are those who theorize that they must have been abandoned by their own families. Then, there are others who say they are dropped on roadsides by staff of overcrowded mental hospitals. This is all hearsay, of course, but nobody seems to have a definitive answer.

I feel so sorry for them whenever I see them walking aimlessly along the roads; and particularly so when they forage for food inside garbage bins. But what do I know? Long before Quantum Physics made it fashionable to theorize of multi-verses – as opposed to the one-dimensional Universe we were all taught in traditional Physics – there was this radical thinking author who had the utter gall to ask, “How do we know that our version of reality is the true one?”

Profound? Food for thought, indeed! All he was asking was for his readers to open their minds to the possibility – remote though it might have seemed – that these greasy people we feel so sorry for as they walk the streets might have simply found a way through some as yet undiscovered mechanism in their brains to tune in to another dimension of that which we just call reality.

You never can tell; but who’s to say? For all we know – to them – we are the ones who are completely bonkers!

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